Thursday, 11 July 2019

Eerie, Indiana [Review: Stranger Things 3]

Stranger Things season 1 celebrated the Eighties. Stranger Things 2 started to get a bit creepy around the Eighties if we're being honest. Stranger Things 3 has been stalking the Eighties in violation of its court order for months, and now the Eighties hasn't been seen for several days  - we suspect that Stranger Things 3 has kidnapped the Eighties and is holding it hostage in some kind of fortified basement dungeon, possibly in preparation for some kind of nightmarish ritual.

Stranger Things 3 is set in a strangely exaggerated 1985. I'll try to avoid major spoilers for those of you who haven't yet binge-watched the whole of season 3. This is just to report that Stranger Things 3 is definitely worth watching, it's up to the same standards of insanity, creepiness and Eightiesism as the other two series. Your favourite characters are back (whoever they happened to be). Some minor characters from previous series come out of the shadows - it happens quite late in the current series but when given a chance Erica (Priah Ferguson) really comes into her own.

There are baddies trying to re-open the breach to the Upside Down (this is only a minor spoiler for the first scene of the first episode), and these particular baddies are absolutely consistent with the global political situation in 1985. My only minor criticism is that we don't get any sense of what motivates them, or exactly they want from the Upside Down. It's not exactly prime construction land.

On the other hand, the mysterious forces from the Upside Down set into motion during series 2 are also up to something nefarious of their own, and they certainly do have a real motivation - this aspect of the plot is a slow burner but it's beautifully thought out, with everything falling into place and making sense about two thirds of the way through. The new big bad is a clever development of ideas from season 2, and also gives the Duffer Brothers plenty of opportunities to reference iconic movies such as The Blob or Terminator 2.

It's also really satisfying seeing that all of the main characters, without exception, have grown and changed since season 2. It would be interesting to see this in other movies from the 80s - there was no sequel for ET (I'm not counting the Atari game) so we never really get to see how Elliot and Gertie were affected by their rather strange childhood.

Here there's a lot going on for the younger generation about the transition from childhood to adolescence - and particularly about what happens when Mike, Lucas and Max are going full steam ahead with this while Will is in a different place and Dustin... well, just watch. Different life challenges await for the young adults, particularly Nancy and Jonathan who are working in literally the worst local newspaper ever, and for the adult adults - you might have thought that Joyce and Hopper had suffered enough over the past two seasons, but no. The challenge for the writers is to keep all these stories going in parallel, and this is achieved in an interesting way through synchronicity - in each episode, all the groups are doing something in common, whether that's searching for someone who can help solve a puzzle or dealing with a romantic break-up.

Stranger Things in general, and this series in particular, has really impressed me. It stands head, shoulders and very long legs above most other Netflix content, as well as other eighties nostalgia pieces such as Super 8 or Ready Player One. Now the visual style has become so well defined I'm really interested to see where it goes next - perhaps the Nineties?